Many North Dakotans live for warmer weather in the spring and the opportunity to go fishing. So when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers fenced off many long-standing access points to fishing holes on Lake Sakakawea it created an uproar.
Access hasn’t just been cut off for those going fishing. Hikers and bird-watchers no longer have access.
The corps has some valid reasons for its action, but it appears the situation could have been handled in a better manner.
Among the problems reported by the corps are ATVs going along the shoreline and dumping trash. Nesting habitat has been torn up and cultural artifacts put at risk. It comes down to some people not respecting the land and using it for unapproved activities.
When the corps fenced off the access sites it came as a surprise to many people.
During a meeting last week users aired their grievances. They pointed out the sites have been used for years and in some cases third generations are using the land. They also pointed out that the disabled count on the access points to get to the fishing holes.
Representatives from the corps and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, which leases land from the corps for wildlife management and a rifle range, explained and defended the closures.
It appears progress was made in resolving some of the issues. Among the solutions being considered is having groups or volunteers agree to manage safe access points. That could prevent some of the destructive behavior.
Wade Spooner, deputy operations project manager for Garrison Project, warned that it was likely not all access points would be reopened.
"We are not providing access along a road unless there's a parking lot," he said. "It has to be safe access for everyone using the river."
Spooner did agreed to study the possibility of a sticker for handicap access, so that four-wheeler access could be allowed on a limited basis for those who need it.
Members of the audience questioned why public land is sometimes restricted. The answer was the land has multiple users such as habitat and nesting.
The Tribune Editorial Board believes those interested in access should step forward and help monitor the land. Many volunteers in the past have helped clean trash from the property and hopefully that will continue.
The corps should find ways to open as many access points as possible. One of the pleasures of living in North Dakota is the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors. Providing that chance should be a priority of the corps.